05 July 2010

Naamah’s Kiss

Here is a review I did for Interzone some time ago:

Naamah’s Kiss by Jacqueline Carey (Gollancz, January 2010)

With Naamah’s Kiss Jacqueline Carey returns to the world of her Kushiel’s Legacy series. It is the first volume of a new trilogy, which will follow the fortunes of Moirin as she comes to terms with her magical powers and her connection with the deities of Terre d’Ange.

The story in this volume falls naturally into three parts. The first part introduces Moirin and outlines her childhood on the island of Alba. Gradually she discovers her magical gifts and her connection with the gods of her father’s people. Her first love affair ends in tragedy. Soon after that she undergoes a coming of age ritual, during which she is accepted as a true child of the Maghuinn Dhonn (the bear goddess of her mother’s people) but at the same time effectively exiled.

Knowing that her destiny lies overseas, Moirin leaves Alba to seek her father in Terre d’Ange. On arrival she is rapidly accepted into Angeline society becoming the mistress of Raphael de Mereliot – the Queen’s favourite – and then the lover of Queen Jehanne herself. Here she meets the man destined to become her teacher, the Ch’in sage Lo Feng. Through Raphael she meets a group of occultists and becomes involved in their attempts to summon fallen angels.

In the third part, Lo Feng is recalled to Ch’in to heal a princess and avert a civil war. Moirin goes with him and plays a crucial role in that enterprise – helping to free the dragon trapped within the princess and using her magic to suppress knowledge that could spell disaster worldwide. At the same time, she becomes involved in two more love affairs, with the princess and Lo Feng’s assistant, Bao. Her separation from Bao at the end of the novel provides the departure point for the next volume in the trilogy.

In the previous Kushiel novels, Carey created a complex alternative medieval earth centred on Terre d’Ange. Riffing on the Judaeo-Christian tradition, she has envisaged a world in which a group of angels have become the gods and goddesses of Terre d’Ange. Naamah’s Kiss adds a pagan/druidic element in the Alba section and a faux Chinese background for the Ch’in section. Perhaps inevitably, these suffer by comparison with the much more developed mythology of the central Angeline section.

Like the earlier novels, this is a first person narrative – in this case, written entirely from Moirin’s perspective. Moirin is an engaging character but on my second reading I became irritated with her indecisiveness. She can’t give up her first love; exile is forced upon her. In Terre d’Ange she allows herself to manipulated by Raphael into more than one life-threatening situation and only Jehanne’s intervention saves her. Throughout the novel she comes across as more reactive than active. I can only hope that her quest to be reunited with Bao will lead to greater decisiveness in the next volume.

Since Moirin has a connection with Naamah, the goddess of desire, the novel contains a fair number of explicit sex scenes. Like much else in the novel they are well-written. However, I did feel they were rather too frequent. On more than one occasion when I wanted the plot to move on, Moirin jumped into bed instead.

Carey’s writing is generally clear and attractive. However, I was occasionally annoyed by the overuse of certain words and phrases. For example, in one sample of 20 pages the adjective ‘nice’ is used to describe everything from food and drink to jewellery and sex! I was also irritated by the way she scatters random archaisms (e.g. ‘betimes’, ‘mayhap’, ‘wroth’) through the text. In sum, this is a well written fantasy of a fairly traditional kind (apart from the sex) – young woman of humble origins but with remarkable gifts is raised to a position of great influence and goes on a quest during which she helps to save the world. In spite of its connections with the previous novels, it can be read and enjoyed without first having read its predecessors. A good book for a long journey or a lazy holiday.

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